Name: Scott Harkless
Title: Director of Sales
Company: Alcorn McBride
Overtime: Harkless’ first computer, an IBM XT, boasted a 10MB hard drive, more than enough space to store all of his favorite gaming entertainment—if only it lasted more than a year.
I’ll never forget my first computer when I was growing up. It was an IBM XT in a sleek beige case, clunky keyboard, green monochrome screen, and a giant red power switch. One of the key selling features of this model was its built-in 10 megabyte hard drive, which was a ton of storage space back then. It was more than enough to store copies of Janitor Joe, Tapper, Paperboy, and all of the other delightfully simple gaming entertainment that we enjoyed during the PC revolution of the 1980s. Of course, this hard drive died after only about a year of use, so it was a good thing for those trusty 5.25-inch floppy disks!
After the heyday of the IBM XT, along came something called “progress.” Suddenly, computer systems just weren’t good enough anymore unless you had a nice sound card and high-end graphics that included more than one color. The problem was that all of this fancy audio and video content gobbled up more and more digital storage space.
Before long, digital content became so prevalent that storage and transport technologies could no longer keep up with the growing hunger for data. This led to some rather clever people realizing that most consumers probably wouldn’t notice if the AV content was modified slightly, to save storage space and make media files easier to move around. The resulting mentality is what brought about the age of portable MP3 players, digital photography, and DVDs—all technologies based on mathematically compressed content that sacrificed quality for convenience.
Not only are modern storage devices blazingly fast at moving data, they are also relatively inexpensive and hold massive amounts of data. With web streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora at an all-time high, this trend still continues today. However, the game has changed completely when it comes to internet bandwidth and easy access to storage in our modern digital devices. In other words, bandwidth and storage space are getting cheaper and better every day. With that being the case, there is a movement underway to bring back the full quality of the content we enjoy.
In residential markets, you see the emergence of services that specialize in streaming uncompressed music. If you’re investing the money for a high-speed internet connection and some quality audio equipment, why not listen to music as the recording artist originally intended? Although still highly compressed, there is also an emergence of 4K content that uses more efficient compression to deliver higher-quality video into our homes.
In commercial markets that deploy high-end audiovisual experiences, you see uncompressed video playback and hi-fi audio dominating some markets, particularly themed entertainment. In these markets, the driving force behind this movement is the content creators. They are talented, creative people who work diligently to make content look as good as it possibly can. They also have to keep in mind that their audience is looking for a unique experience that they can’t get at home. For these creative types, “compression” is a dirty word. When given a choice, they don’t want to do anything that would degrade the quality of their efforts and the guest experience. This is especially true for applications like large-screen projection and hi-fi theater applications where the side effects of compression become more noticeable to the audience.
Thanks to advances in technology, the choice to forgo all that pesky compression entirely is becoming much more feasible. Not only are modern storage devices blazingly fast at moving data, they are also relatively inexpensive and hold massive amounts of data. For example, you can easily get your hands on a 1 terabyte solid-state drive for less than $500. For audio applications, this drive could hold more than 500 hours of brilliant, high-quality 24-bit 96 kHz audio content without even a hint of compression. When utilized with a cutting-edge playback device, this drive technology is capable of delivering phenomenal uncompressed video that would make any content creator grin from ear to ear. This is all using solid-state memory technology, which has the very nice benefit of being significantly more reliable than my not-so-trusty 10MB IBM XT hard drive. Sorry folks, but 5.25-inch floppies are simply not in the cards for this one.
With nice technology options like this on the table, it’s certainly worth considering whether compression is really necessary for some applications. You can realize the full quality of your AV content to provide an amazing user experience without all of the time and hassle that comes with compressing media. Simple and stunning!